Friday, July 28, 2006

Review: Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror is a boardgame by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson which is published by Fantasy Flight Games. The taglines on the box read "the classic game of Lovecraftian adventure" and "a Call of Cthulhu Boardgame." That should let most postGeeks know immediately what the game is about, but for those who haven't figured it out, this is a boardgame set in H.P. Lovecraft's Mythos universe. A world he wrote about in the 1920's where there were many things that "man was not meant to know," where elder gods slept, and where evil cultists sought to wake them from their slumber to bring about the end of the world.

The premise of the game is that the boundaries between our world and those of the elder gods are weakening in the city of Arkham. Gates are opening up and creatures are coming forth as one of the elder gods stirs in its slumber. The players take the role of individuals who are struggling to close those gates before the boundaries become too weak and the elder god awakens.

The game is a cooperative game. The players either win or lose collectively. This makes it ideal for those who don't like to play confrontational games. At the same time, the game is not easy to win, so those who seek a challenge will still find one here.

Many of the mechanics are similar to a role playing game in that everyone has a character with stats and equipment. These characters are either chosen or picked randomly from a deck of sixteen characters. Some starting equipment is assigned by the character card and some is drawn randomly from a deck. In fact, most of the gameplay is driven by the random draw of either cards or chits.

The basic turn structure is that everyone in Arkham moves in turn, then everyone in the outer worlds, then everyone in Arkham draws an encounter card in turn (if they are in an encounter area) and follows the directions on the card, then everyone in the outer worlds does the same, then finally the first player draws a mythos card which usually results in a new gate opening and/or more creatures arriving. The next player then becomes the "first player" and everything happens all over again.

As gates open, the elder god gets closer to waking up. If the god awakes then the players get one last chance to win the game by defeating the god in a final combat. If they fail then they lose the game and Arkham is devoured (if not the entire world). If the players manage to defeat the elder god, or if they manage to close all the open gates before the god awakes, then they win the game and save Arkham (and possibly the world).

There is no way for a player to be completely eliminated from play prior to the final battle with the elder god. Even if their character should be devoured (removed from play entirely), then they simply draw a new character to play with. I consider this to be a big plus for the game since no player ends up getting left out.

Another plus is that while this game is very fun with a group, it's also playable solo. Since you play against the game and not other players you simply pick a character and play. Beating the game solo is considered to be a bit more challenging than beating it in a group, but it's still quite fun.

One of the few complaints I have with the basic game is the small number of encounter cards per Arkham encounter area, but that has been fixed with a new expansion called Curse of the Dark Pharoah that doubles the number of those encounter cards as well as adding many more cards of different types and some new factors to the gameplay.

The game is temporarily out of print, but you can probably still find it for sale from either your local store or online. It should also be reprinted soon if for some reason you can't find it. FFG is still supporting the game, and has yet another expansion planned.

I should mention again that this is a horror game. The game recommends ages 12 to adult. Use your own judgement as to whether or not the themes are appropriate for your children. Violence is abstracted, but it is there, and your characters can both be hurt and driven insane during the game.

If you want more information you can check out the FFG site. Suggested retail price is $49.95.

I've only played the game twice now (once solo and once in a group), but based on those experiences I highly recommend this game.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Mordheim in a Day

Recently a few of us started playing some Mordheim. After playing around with a Middenheim list put together by a friend, I started on the work of making my own warband. At first I looked at Undead. I have some vampire miniatures and some other miscellaneous undead from when I was thinking about doing a Vampire Counts army for Warhammer Fantasy Battles. I would have probably done them, except that I'd have to order some Dregs miniatures, and I wanted to be able to put the warband together in a day or two.

So, I kept looking and found the Dwarfs. I recently bought a Games Day slayer miniature, which served as my excuse for starting this warband. After a couple of games using my friend's miniatures, I went out and bought a noble and a box of Thunderers to make my warband.

I put them together right away, but played another couple of games before getting around to basecoating them. After that I decided that I was going to finish them all in a day, leaving the bases.

For once I decided to plunge right in without doing a test model. I knew that I wanted to use blue as my warband's main color, and that I was going to make my leader a blonde, and that was about it. With that I began.

First up was drybrushing the chainmail with gunmetal metal. Then doing some details in the same color. Then I picked ultramarine blue for my blue color, doing the trim on everyone's armor in blue, as well as the leader's cloak and the slayer's pants. I decided at this point to use jade green as an accent color. I did the thunderer's sleeves in green and the engineer's cloak. The leader had a barely visible layer of clothing over his armor and under his cloak that I did in green, and I did the slayer's belt in green. This all tied the force together pretty well. I later did some of the leader's shield in blue and green as well.

I painted the exposed skin bronzed flesh and then moved on to the most important part of any dwarf, their hair and beards. I'd decided that the leader was going to be blonde, and that the thunderers were all close relatives so would have the same color hair, which I decided would be beasty brown. The engineer I decided to do in parasite brown. The slayer would obviously have orange hair, and I picked orange fire. The engineer and thunderers were straightforward requiring just a coat or two of the color over the black primer. The slayer required several coats over the primer to get decent coverage. To do the blonde I started by painting two coats of skull white before doing three coats of sunblast yellow.

After the hair I did the weapons. The handguns and pistols were all done in brassy brass and gunmetal metal. The leader's hammer was done in mithril silver and glorious gold. I then used the glorious gold to pick out a lot of the medallions on the different models. This left a few details that weren't metal which I picked out with cobra leather and scorched brown. There was also a book on the leader that I picked out with bone white and a scab red cover.

That was it for the basic painting. No highlights or anything. The next step was simply a coating of brown magic wash over the entire figure. This was my first attempt at using magic wash on a figure in a scale larger than 15mm and I was pleased with the results.

At this point I'd achieved my goal of finishing all but the bases. I decided to push on and glued some sand to the bases and then painted magic wash over the sand. All that was left was to apply static grass and paint the edge of the base. I decided to save this for the next morning.

A few notes:
After I did the original dwarfs, I did three more. Another slayer and two dwarfs with two-handed axes. The photos show the full warband.

The original slayer I painted is the Gamesday 2006 miniature, and is designed to sit on top of a daemon's head so it has pegs in its feet for that purpose. I want to eventually use the daemon head base, so instead of filing off the pegs I used green stuff to build up a regular base and pressed the pegs into it. I then removed the figure and let the green stuff dry. Later I glued the figure in place using white glue since I want to be able to easily remove it without damaging the paint job.

The slayers and the noble all used slottabases. Normally I use scotch tape to cover up holes in bases before painting, but I was impatient and skipped this step. Instead I used static grass to conceal the holes.

Sadly, while I'm pleased with the way my dwarfs look, they have performed abysmally on the field of battle. After achieving a record of 0-5 I had to take a break from the game. The final conflict was the breaking point as it was a battle that by all rights they should have won, but the dice were fickle and they not only lost, but suffered a couple of key deaths that set me too far back for the game to continue to be fun for me. Still, I'm tempted to turn this force into a full fledged Warhammer Fantasy Battles army, but I'll wait until after the new edition comes out before I go that far.